Horn of Africa Holds Terrorist Threat
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2002 Some terrorists fleeing Afghanistan may be heading for the Horn of Africa, according to a senior U.S. defense official.
U.S. officials want to deny safe haven for fleeing al Qaeda members wherever they may go, the official said at a recent Pentagon background briefing. He said the terrorist threat in Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia make them "logical places" for terrorists to hide.
"Terrorists associated with al Qaeda and indigenous terrorist groups have been and continue to be a presence in this region," he said. "These terrorists will also enable terrorist networks that are at large to continue to survive. These terrorists will, of course, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities."
The United States is interested in helping those nations that are interested in fighting the war on terrorism, the official said. "We'll do whatever it takes to make sure that terrorists don't kill Americans."
Somalia, he said, has struggled to set up a fully functioning government for a decade or more. At present, no central government security organs exist, and the country has a long, porous border. These factors make it a potential terrorist haven.
The conditions in Somalia also make it a favorable environment for the home-grown extremists such as the Somali Islamic Union, known as the AIAI, he said. The wide- ranging Islamic group is composed of several separate factions with hundreds of members, the official said.
The AIAI seeks to establish an Islamic state and engages in a variety of religious and social activities, he said. Some extreme AIAI factions have denounced the Western presence in Somalia and have threatened U.S. and other Western aid groups.
"Osama bin Laden and his senior advisers have made statements in the past implying that the al Qaeda organization has ties to some violent Somali Islamic extremists," the official pointed out. Bin Laden saluted Somali clans when they attacked U.S. military personnel in October 1993 and killed 19, for example.
Bin Laden's al Qaeda and its extreme interpretation of Islam may be seen as a "corporate model," the official said. Extreme elements of the AIAI may be seen as a "franchise" that shares bin Laden's worldview. Whatever their connections, he said, they share the same perspective regarding the West.
Since last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Somalia's transitional national government has expressed opposition to terrorism, the official said. Somali leaders claim to have formed a committee to investigate charges of terrorist influence in Somalia. The government has also detained a handful of persons on terrorism-related charges.
"Overall, however, the transitional national government controls little territory, has only small, relatively poorly trained and equipped military and police forces, has little influence in the countryside, and almost no real capability to fight terrorism," he said.
The AIAI may also have violent members and sympathizers in Somali ethnic enclaves in Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia. Djibouti, for example, is a rural country that lacks the robust border controls found in other areas. "So that would be a logical place for al Qaeda and other extremists to operate, he said.
Ethiopian officials have clearly stated concerns over the spread of AIAI activities in their country, he noted. "There have been some raids and they have publicly expressed their willingness to cooperate with the war on terrorism as appropriate."
In Sudan, the terrorist presence has declined since bin Laden departed the country for Afghanistan in 1996, the official said. Bin Laden lived in Sudan for years and probably has lingering infrastructure there. While the number of al Qaeda members slowly dwindled after the terrorist leader departed, terrorists continue to use Sudan as a safe haven. These include people from al Qaeda, Egyptian and Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Sudan has also voiced opposition to terrorism and offered cooperation in the war on terrorism. The country is interested in being removed from its current position on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the official said. Sudan has arrested a small number of extremists since Sept. 11.